Alexandrite Value, Price, and Jewelry Information
“Emerald by day, ruby by night,” alexandrite is well known for displaying one of the most remarkable color changes in the gem world — green in sunlight and red in incandescent light. However, the modern June birthstone is so rare and expensive few people have seen a natural alexandrite. This variety of gem-quality chrysoberyl makes an excellent jewelry stone.
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“Emerald by day, ruby by night,” alexandrite is well known for displaying one of the most remarkable color changes in the gem world — green in sunlight and red in incandescent light. However, the modern June birthstone is so rare and expensive few people have seen a natural alexandrite. This variety of gem-quality chrysoberyl makes an excellent jewelry stone (if you can acquire one).
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Alexandrites have two primary value drivers. First, the closer the colors to pure green and red, the higher the value. Second, the more distinct the color change, the higher the value. Alexandrites can exhibit everything from 100% to just 5% color change. Thus, the most valuable gems would have a 100% color shift from pure green to pure red. Blue-greens and purplish or brownish reds hold less value.
Clarity also plays a significant role in grading. As is the case with a majority of gems, most naturally occurring alexandrite isn’t clean, facetable material. Most is best suited for cabbing. However, an alexandrite’s color change has more effect on its value than its clarity. For example, take two alexandrites of equal size. One gem is eye clean, with a 50% greenish blue to brownish red color change. The other is an opaque cabochon with a 100% green to red color change. The opaque cab would be considered more valuable.
Size always affects alexandrite value. You can see this reflected in our Price Guide below. In sizes up to one carat, top-quality natural gems can sell for up to $15,000 per carat. Over one carat, the prices range from $50,000 to $70,000 per carat!
For more detailed value information, see our alexandrite buying guide.
This oval-cut alexandrite has a 100% color change, from a strong blue-green in sunlight to a purple “plum” red in incandescent light. 0.35 cts, 5.1 x 4.2 mm, Russia. For alexandrites, this is a large gem. © Rob Lavinsky, www.iRocks.com. Used with permission.
An alexandrite crystal on micaceous schist, displaying green to red color shift. 3.7 x 2.7 x 1.5 cm, Malashova Mine, Ural Mountains, Russia. © Rob Lavinsky, www.iRocks.com. Used with permission.
Alexandrite was discovered in the Ural Mountains of Russia in the 1830s. Noted mineralogist Nils Gustaf Nordenskiöld was the first to realize this unusual green, color-changing gemstone was something new. In 1834, Count Lev Alekseevich Perovskii named the stone in honor of the then future Czar of Russia, Alexander II.
This connection to the Czars likely helped the gem gain prestige by association. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, as historian David Cannadine notes, the Czars were widely considered the standard for royal pomp. (More recently, the British Royal Family has enjoyed this position). A combination of beauty, celebrity, and rarity helped create a mystique around this gem in the public imagination.
By the 1950s, alexandrite joined the list of birthstones as the modern alternative to June's traditional pearl.
How Rare is Alexandrite?
If not for alexandrite's popular associations, the circumstances necessary for its formation, combined with its mining history, might have ensured the gem would be little known as well as extremely rare. To form, alexandrite requires both beryllium (Be), one of the rarest elements on Earth, and chromium (Cr). (Emerald also requires these two elements). However, Be and Cr rarely occur in the same rocks or in geological conditions where they interact. Furthermore, the original source of alexandrites was almost exhausted after only a few decades of mining.
Since the 1980s, more sources have emerged. Nevertheless, alexandrite remains one of the rarest gemstones.
Cat's Eye Alexandrites
Alexandrite is a variety of the gem species chrysoberyl, well-known for its chatoyancy or "cat's eye" effect when cabbed. As members of this species, alexandrites can also show a cat's eye effect. However, such gems are quite rare.
This oval cabochon alexandrite shows both exceptional color change and a sharp cat's eye across its entire surface. The dark blue-green to purple color change covers about 80-85% of the gem. (Look at the reflections carefully and you can see sunlight causing the blue-green color and incandescent light causing the purple color). 1.20 cts, 6 x 4.8 mm, Andhra Pradesh, India. © The Gem Trader. Used with permission.
The color change gemstone phenomenon can occur under a variety of lighting types. When grading an alexandrite's color change, gemologists consider the stone's color in natural sunlight as the baseline. Thus, the classic alexandrite color change is green in sunlight and red in incandescent light. However, other types of lights can produce other colors, as shown below.
Regional Variations in Alexandrites
Brazilian alexandrites tend to have pale colors, pale blue-green to pale mauve. However, finer gems have been found recently in limited quantity. Gemologists have detected substantial amounts (1,200 ppm) of the element gallium (Ga) replacing aluminum (Al) in some Brazilian material.
These alexandrites on biotite schist matrix from Brazil show a green to "amethystine" color change. 5.3 x 4.0 x 2.3 cm, Carnaiba mining district, Pindobacu, Campo Formoso ultramafic complex, Bahia, Brazil. © Rob Lavinsky, www.iRocks.com. Used with permission.
Sri Lankan alexandrite often appears deep olive-green in sunlight, whereas Russian stones appear bluish green in sunlight.
Zimbabwean gems show a fine, emerald-green color in sunlight but are usually tiny. If clean, they weigh under 1 carat. The color change in Zimbabwean gems is among the best known, but large, clean stones are virtually unobtainable from the rough from this locality.
Other physical and optical properties of alexandrites vary according to their source.
|Specific Gravity||-||-||3.71||3.68||3.64 - 3.80|
A considerable market exists for lab-created alexandrite, first synthesized in the 1960s. Manufacturers can grow alexandrites through melt, hydrothermal, or flux methods. These synthetic stones have the same chemical and physical properties as natural alexandrites. They are real alexandrites but not natural. Although the synthetics cost far less than their natural counterparts, they still rank among the most expensive synthetic gemstones available.
Gemologists can sometimes identify synthetic alexandrites by inclusions caused by various growth procedures. Melt techniques, like the Czochralski method, can create curved striae. Hydrothermal growth can create bubbles and liquid inclusions. Flux methods can leave inclusions of platinum or other seed materials.
A considerable market also exists for lookalikes or simulants. These can range from synthetic corundum with alexandrite-like color change (produced very inexpensively) to actual, natural color-change chrysoberyl stones. Although alexandrite is a variety of chrysoberyl, not all color-change chrysoberyls are alexandrites. These gems also command a high price, but, again, not nearly as high as alexandrites. (Editor's note: No gemological consensus exists for restricting the definition of alexandrite to color-change chrysoberyl gems with a limited, "classic" range of color shift).
Buyer beware. If you find an alexandrite at a relatively bargain price, it's likely not natural and possibly not an alexandrite. A professional gemological laboratory can make a determination.
Natural alexandrites usually don't receive any treatments.
Mines in the Urals have re-opened but only produce a few carats of gem-quality material each year. In 1987, alexandrite was discovered in Brazil and later in Madagascar, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Zimbabwe. However, none of these sites produce as rich and vivid a color change as the original Russian source.
The main source of large, natural alexandrite gems today is actually antique jewelry.
The largest known faceted alexandrite, a 65.7-ct green/red color change stone from Sri Lanka, resides at the Smithsonian Institution. The largest Russian gems weigh about 30 carats. However, the vast majority of alexandrites weigh under one carat. Stones over five carats are very rare, especially with good color change.
Other alexandrites of notable size include in the following:
- British Museum of Natural History (London): 43 and 27.5 cts (Sri Lanka).
- Institute of Mines (St. Petersburg, Russia): cluster of three crystals, 6 x 3 cm (Urals).
- Fersman Museum (Moscow, Russia): crystal group, 25 x 15 cm, crystals up to 6 x 3 cm (Urals).
- Private Collections: stones up to 50 cts have been reported.
With a hardness of 8.5, alexandrite makes a very durable stone suitable for any jewelry setting. Nevertheless, take care when faceting the stone. Alexandrite is still sensitive to knocks and extreme heat.
These gems have no special care requirements. You can clean them mechanically, per the instructions of the system used. Of course, you can also wash them with warm, soapy water and a brush. Consult our gemstone jewelry cleaning guide for more information.
Joel E. Arem, Ph.D., FGA
Dr. Joel E. Arem has more than 60 years of experience in the world of gems and minerals. After obtaining his Ph.D. in Mineralogy from Harvard University, he has published numerous books that are still among the most widely used references and guidebooks on crystals, gems and minerals in the world.
Co-founder and President of numerous organizations, Dr. Arem has enjoyed a lifelong career in mineralogy and gemology. He has been a Smithsonian scientist and Curator, a consultant to many well-known companies and institutions, and a prolific author and speaker. Although his main activities have been as a gem cutter and dealer, his focus has always been education. joelarem.com
Donald Clark, CSM IMG
The late Donald Clark, CSM founded the International Gem Society in 1998. Donald started in the gem and jewelry industry in 1976. He received his formal gemology training from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) and the American Society of Gemcutters (ASG). The letters “CSM” after his name stood for Certified Supreme Master Gemcutter, a designation of Wykoff’s ASG which has often been referred to as the doctorate of gem cutting. The American Society of Gemcutters only had 54 people reach this level. Along with dozens of articles for leading trade magazines, Donald authored the book “Modern Faceting, the Easy Way.”
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